Damn! It’s happened again. Someone I love is in pain, and what do I do but crawl into that familiar helpless, hopeless hole. I come from a long line of professional worriers. My mother and her mother taught me that the verbs to worry and to care are synonymous, but this kind of caring surely does more harm than good.
Joanne and I are relatively new friends, but I couldn’t love her more. Her million-dollar smile warms my heart. That sparkle in her clear blue eyes melts the pain she sees in my own. Joanne is the embodiment of the phrase we all say at the end of yoga practice, “Namasté,“ which can be translated as “the light in me recognizes the light in you.” Every time I look into Joanne’s eyes, I feel blessed, loved, “seen.” She sees the good in me, while loving the whole of me, and for extra measure, her toughness inspires me to “buck up” and keep slogging through the muck of life.
News of Joanne’s diagnosis hit me hard. First, I got angry. It’s not fair that someone so lovely and loving should have to go through the painful trials of surgery and chemo. Next, I felt helpless. What could I do that would really bring her comfort in her hour of need?
Then I remembered feeling that same helplessness last winter when visiting B’s farm during lambing season. After one of the ewes gave birth, her udders became so inflamed and engorged, she wouldn’t allow her newborn near her to nurse. The lamb was starving before our eyes, the mother was in terrific pain, and listening to their mournful cries was more than my tender heart could bear.
Not being a farm girl, I could only watch as more experienced caregivers attempted to relieve their suffering. I turned to my friend Dottie and asked, “What can we do?” That’s when she taught me the practice of Tonglen, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
It never does anyone any good to worry. In fact, we actually do harm to the object of our prayers when we send them fear. Those who can see energy fields describe fear as a dark, solid, heavy mass that hovers around the fearful, weighing them down energetically. So, the more we “pray” by sending our concern, the more we encumber the very people we’re trying to help.
Dottie and I stood a respectful distance away from the distressed and dying sheep, and we did this: First, we inhaled and breathed in their suffering, trying to fully feel it and accept it. Then as we breathed out, we radiated compassion and lovingkindness for them through our every cell. In and out, in and out. We breathed in their hot, searing pain and fear, then returned it as a cooling, soft, pillow of comfort. By this practice, instead of shutting down our hearts to feeling anything in order to protect our own tender spot, Dottie and I were able to stay present and serve, and in the process we even relieved our own suffering.
This is the way that I am praying for Joanne now, and I hope you will join me. She will be fine, I’m sure. She’s tough, and with our blessings of wholeness instead of worry, she’ll continue to inspire us all for many years to come to stay present and calm as we go through life’s trials. You can also practice Tonglen for yourself—your own fear and pain—and for the suffering of the whole planet.
Please “share” this post so that together we can send a powerful healing to Joanne, and to the world. Namasté.